Add, don´t subtract
“Wow, Benjamin, you gave us some hard work there,” groans Sven as he scans his colleague’s application documents. While Benjamin adhered to the rule that a non-academic resume should be no more than two pages long, he needed some layout tweaks to achieve that: 10-point font, no line spacing, and narrow margins. “How did you go about writing it?” I ask. “Years ago, I created a resume that I keep adding to as soon as something changes in my professional life. Then I cut it to the desired length.” We can see from Benjamin’s pained expression that this is not a pleasant process. Eileen jumps to his side: “I find it difficult too. I didn’t have enough space to mention my research internship in Professor Gilg’s group.” “Is that bad?” I ask. “Why, surely. Anyone who goes to him can fight their way through,” she explains almost defiantly.
Why is it so difficult for us to omit details? Do we really think the whole world knows what’s going on in Professor Gilg’s lab? Hardly likely. The behaviour and thought patterns from academic studies and research work are deep-rooted. That’s good for doing research. However, an application is something different than a publication. Your readership does not have unlimited time and capacity for your application. You don’t prove a scientific theory in application documents. So don’t think, “How can I fit as many points as possible?”, but rather “How can I optimise the signal-to-noise ratio?” The two or at most three main aspects that you can get across are your signals. Your target group hardly absorbs more. Anything that supports this signal, such as an experience that makes this positive attribute more tangible, can be included in your CV. Everything else is noise in the perception of your readership and can safely be left out.
“Another little psychological trick to make this process more palatable for you,” I close this part of the workshop. It hurts to delete parts of our life (course) that we have come to love. Reverse the process: Start with a blank document and add the key points to it. Adding feels better than subtracting.
Do you want to learn more about writing application documents? You might be interested in our workshop Job application and interview strategies for scientists.